By, Diane Burton
Are family dinner a thing of the past? If you grew up with Ozzie and Harriett, Leave it to Beaver, or The Brady Bunch, you would think everyone ate dinner together. My childhood was different. For many years, my dad worked afternoons, so Mom would fix his dinner and eat with him around 2 pm. Then she fixed another dinner for the rest of us after we came home from school. We sat around the table while Mom fed the baby in the highchair. (Since my youngest sibling was born when I was fifteen, there was always a baby in the highchair.) When Dad went on days, we were all older (and bigger) and didn’t fit around the kitchen table. Besides, Dad wanted to watch the news. So we ate off TV trays, but we weren’t allowed to talk during the “Huntley-Brinkley Report” or any show that came after, for that matter. He never asked about our day. We were expected to be quiet and eat then clean up.
I decided that was not how my family would have dinner. We all sat at the table. No television.
If one of the kids had an activity, we ate around the event. But we ate as a family. During the meal, Hubs and I asked each other about our day. We asked the kids about theirs. When they were young, they (especially our daughter) were only too happy to “report.” We listened to them talk their activities and their schoolmates. As they got older, Daughter still told us more than we wanted to know, while Son went into quiet mode. Too often, he tried to respond with “nothing happened.” Or gave us one- or two-word answers. It took work to encourage more communication.
At one point, Son groused about how none of his friends did what we did. Everyone ate when they wanted to. At the time, I thought that was so odd. Now, I understand it’s more the norm. I think those families are missing something important. An opportunity to talk to each other. A chance to communicate with their children.
But, what if everyone brings their phones to the table? Is checking Facebook or Twitter or texting with friends more important than talking to each other? I’m sure most kids would say yes. Daughter and her husband took our example a step further. She and her husband refuse to answer their phones (cell or land line) during dinner. Even when it’s their parents. At first, I was a little offended until I thought more about it. They are setting an example for their kids (who are still too young for cell phones). I’m sure when the kids do have their own phones, the dinner table will be a cell-free zone. (By the way, they do call us back after dinner.)
After our kids left home and it was just the two of us, Hubs and I fell into the habit of eating dinner in front of the television. I mean, after being together for forty-five years, what do we have to talk about? How was your day? What did you do? Nothing the other one didn’t know about. How was the grocery store? How did your writing go? Not real scintillating conversation.
Consequently, our dinner table has gone unused except for special occasions, like Thanksgiving or birthday celebrations. That is, until this summer when Son and his family lived with us. That table got more use in those two months than it did in the four years we’ve lived in this house. It was great! We actually had dinner conversation. Now that they’re in their own home, I miss that.
Another important part of dinner for me is asking for God’s blessings. Since Hubs and I grew up in different religions, we took turns saying grace. Mine was a memorized prayer of my youth, Hubs’ improvised. (I’ve always thought his was more meaningful.) Our kids would say short ones they learned at camp or vacation bible school. Or when I would say let’s say grace, they would shout “Grandma.” You guessed it. Her name was Grace.
When we eat at our daughter’s house, sometimes the kids will say grace, other times our son-in-law, who offers a meaningful prayer specific to the occasion. At first, when they prayed at restaurants, I was surprised and felt a little awkward. Now, it seems natural. When Son’s two-year-old daughter folds her hands, we all know it’s time to say grace. Daughter-in-Law taught her the blessing she grew up with, while Son offers the one he did. How wonderful to see our grandkids learning young to be grateful for the meals before them.
I do believe families should eat together. That we need to let our children know they’re important. That cell phones and televisions should be turned off. That the people around you are more important than those outside our homes. That we should be grateful for having food to eat. Not all are so lucky.
Meet the Author
Diane Burton combines her love of mystery, adventure, science fiction and romance into writing romantic fiction. Besides the science fiction romance Switched and Outer Rim series, she is the author of One Red Shoe, a romantic suspense, and the Alex O’Hara PI mystery series. She is also a contributor to two anthologies: Portals, Volume 2 and How I Met My Husband. Diane and her husband live in West Michigan. They have two children and three (soon to be five) grandchildren.
For more info and excerpts from her books, visit Diane’s website.
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You can read Diane's Family Life column the 3rd Wednesday each month here at Pandora's Box Gazette.